ICASA explains mix-up over COVID-19 emergency hotline

ICASA has announced that it is seeking written submissions to harmonise the 103, 104, 105, 106, 118, and 139 service codes for COVID-19 national emergency services during the National State of Disaster.

“The number will be assigned under the Department of Health and shall be returned to the Authority within nine (9) months after the termination of the National State of Disaster,” ICASA said.

This follows the Authority previously assigning Vodacom’s current “111” call centre contact number for use as a COVID-19 emergency hotline number.

The assignment led to COVID-19 health communication centres being inundated with calls from Vodacom customers seeking assistance with their mobile products.

ICASA has clarified that the original notice, published on 15 April, was done in line with Numbering Plan Regulations.

“Following the publication of the Notice on 27 July 2020, the Authority has noted some media reports suggesting that ICASA accidentally assigned and harmonised the Vodacom customer care number for COVID-19 emergency services,” ICASA said.

It said it had been advised by the National Department of Health that its COVID-19 centres were being contacted by Vodacom customers.

“It is through this consultation process that the Authority is withdrawing the ‘111’ short code and intends to replace it with a new emergency service number,” ICASA said.

Vodacom incorrectly using 111 short code

ICASA categorically stated that there was no error and it was not accidental to assign the service code “111” for COVID-19 national emergencies.

It explained that Vodacom was incorrectly using the number for its customer care centres.

“The Numbering Regulations of 2016 harmonised short code ‘135’ for customer care services by all network operators; and this came into effect on the 24th of March 2018, after which the short code ‘111’ should have been decommissioned for customer care services,” ICASA said.

ICASA Acting Chairperson Advocate Dimakatso Qocha said Vodacom did not decommission the number.

“However, this did not happen despite Vodacom confirming in writing that the new short codes, including the customer care service code, were running parallel with the legacy short codes to ensure seamless transition to the newly harmonised short codes within the specified implementation timeframe,” Qocha said.

“In order to address this matter adequately and without compromising our intentions of facilitating access to the COVID-19 communication centres by South Africans, we have decided to engage on an urgent consultation to harmonise a new number to the Department of Health,” it said.

The matter regarding Vodacom’s continued use of the service code will be addressed separately, Qocha added.

Now read: ICASA accidentally gives emergency COVID-19 hotline the same number as Vodacom call centre

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ICASA explains mix-up over COVID-19 emergency hotline